Can there still be a meaning to the existence of the universe and life if there’s neither a God whose intentions would assign meaning to everything or a big neon sign at the center of the universe spelling out the purpose of it all? If there is, the only way we’re going to find it is by analyzing the physical universe and seeing what clues it holds.
In this universe everything happens because of cause and effect, and every naturally occurring event can be broken down into mathematics. Thus, every cause in nature can be viewed as an equation, and every effect in nature can be viewed as the solution to that equation. Now, if we trace the cause and effect equation of the universe all the way back to the beginning I suspect the equation will reduce itself to the simplest mathematical equation possible: 1 or 0? You could also represent the equation as, “on or off?” If you want to be poetic about it you could represent the equation as, “To be or not to be?”
If that was indeed the original equation, we know the answer was 1. If the existence of the universe was the solution to a mathematical equation, then the structure of the universe would also be the solution to a mathematical equation, though the solution to that equation is as extensive and intricate as the universe itself.
But how could this be? Wouldn’t God need to exist in order to formulate these equations, to solve them and to apply the solution? Well, wouldn’t 2+2 still equal 4 even if nobody were there to ask or answer that question?
Let me propose a radical theory. Try to imagine the universe before the Big Bang where nothing, not even the laws of nature existed. The only thing that existed was potential. That potential begged the question of existence, and the mere possibility of the question’s existence made the question a reality. Once that question came into existence it begged the next question, and then the next and then the next. In a moment or possibly over the course of infinity (which would have been impossible to distinguish the difference between at that “time”) every possible equation came into existence. After every possible calculation unfurled an answer was reached. Then, by its mere potential to exist it became a reality…and there was a Big Mathematical Bang that unfurled a big, mathematical universe that reflected the mathematical nature of its origins. On a side note, I can also imagine that just before the final answer was reached an infinite number of potential universes flickered in and out of existence as all but one solution were posed and then ruled out by the inherent mind/program/nature of the universe.
Now, based on the scenario I just posed you could infer that the calculation of the universe was the mind of God at work, and surely, if you make the definition of the word “God” vague enough and reverse engineer its definition to fit the evidence at hand then yes, you could say that God created the universe. However, this is more of a problem for traditional theists than it is for atheists because this God doesn’t leave you with anything to worship other than impersonal mathematics. It doesn’t leave you with any source for moral codes other than your own logic, and it doesn’t leave you with anyone to be held accountable to other than yourself. In fact, the concept of God becomes completely redundant.
I’m not saying that this is the Great, One and Only Answer to All Things. What it is, is a theoretical explanation for how the universe could have come into existence without the presence of a traditional God. And even if the creation part of this scenario doesn’t pan out to be true, the picture of the universe it paints after the Big Bang fits all the evidence we’ve observed in nature.
Now, with a mathematical view of the universe in mind, let’s look at the question of life. The first thing that must be said about life is that in a mathematical universe in which nothing happens outside of cause and effect, the existence of life couldn’t possibly be an accident. If we assumed that it was then we may as well also assume that the freezing point of water accident and the rotation of planets are accidental. However, everything that happens in the universe is bound by the laws of nature. It would fit the scientific nature of the universe more elegantly to assume that the existence of life was the solution to a mathematical equation that fits into the inherent mathematical design of the universe that has existed (at least) since the Big Bang.
I believe scientists will eventually reverse engineer our DNA to the point where they can unlock the equation of how life exists. Once we do that, we’ll be able to engineer (“engineer” would be a more accurate term than “create”) new life forms out of inanimate matter. There are some exciting implications to that statement, but the main reason I bring that up is to point out that answer the question “How was life created?” is just a matter of details. The big question is “Why was life created?”
If God existed we could learn about Him by listening to His self-proclaimed spokesmen or try to deduce clues to his nature and motives by analyzing the universe He created, but in the end all our theorizing might be completely wrong. There’s no way to know for sure. If the universe we live in is absurd, romantic or nihilistic then all our theories about the meaning of existence would be equally void. The best case scenario to build a reasonable theory about the meaning of existence is in a mathematically designed, scientific universe in which God does not exist.
It just so happens that all the empirical evidence points to the conclusion that we live in a mathematically designed, scientific universe. Immediately that tells us that life has some kind meaning, because nothing happens in this universe without a cause, and there can’t be a cause without some sort of reason.
What makes deducing a logical explanation for the meaning of life is its simplicity, not its complexity. If you want to understand the purpose of life then just take life out of the equation. What would change if life didn’t exist? Nothing. We serve no purpose outside of ourselves. So our purpose must be to accomplish something that serves no other purpose outside of us.
It would be illogical to conclude that the meaning of life is to reproduce. If the meaning of your life is to have a baby, and the meaning of that baby’s life is to have a baby, and the meaning of that baby’s life is to have another baby then the process keeps delaying purpose to infinity. So the purpose of our existence must be something immediate. Also, mathematically speaking, every human being is the same. The reason for one person’s existence must be the same as everyone’s. More to the point, mathematically speaking, every living thing is the same. So the reason for one living thing’s existence must be the same as every other. So the meaning of life must be something personal, immediate and universal.
On one level we can say that the meaning of existence is to exist. That is to say that existence is not a means to an end, it’s an end in and of itself. You’re here to experience existence. What does that mean you should do with your life though? Sit on your roof and stare at the clouds all day? Not necessarily, because the more your mind and body grows the more acutely you’ll be able to experience existence. This goes for all living things. Everything is born, grows and dies. The big difference between humans and other living creatures is that we can choose whether or not to grow. That’s your freedom, but choosing not to grow will defeat the purpose of existing. And if all this work went into creating this incredible universe to give you the opportunity to grow we can deduce it must be a very important goal, the accomplishment of which is its own reward.
So what does this mean? That there’s some ghost in the machine that has decided to create living beings who can experience their own existence out of the goodness of its computation? That’s one possibility, but remember that we sprouted from the universe and are made of the same stuff the rest of the universe is made of. We’re not children of the universe. We are the universe. The matter in our bodies has existed since the Big Bang, and the logical structure of our bodies that allows us to be self-aware was formulated before the Big Bang. We’re the spirit of the universe. We’re the eyes and ears of the universe.
We exist because we’re the fulfillment of the universe’s calculation that it is good to be alive, aware, and posses an individual identity with individual wants. “We” have been working on fulfilling the meaning of life since before the Big Bang and through the cooling of the universe. We finished 99% of the work when we were born. Now all we have left to do is grow and be ourselves. See, that wasn’t so complicated.
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